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The Battle of Mentors – Jonathan Kent V Ben Parker

We all know the greats, Superman and Spider-Man. These two heroes have become icons, through all their trials and tribulations. We’ve all loved their many adventures, their great villains and their timeless relationships. There is however one element that these two characters above all other heroes excel in, they have the greatest mentors in the history of comics. Ben Parker and Jonathan Kent, two icons in their own right. Without any powers these two men have changed so many lives for the better and how have they done this, simply by being decent human beings. Now both characters have had rebooted origins and incarnations over the years but at the core of these characters is an understanding that a hero must be willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good which they both instil in their protégé’s. Today though I will try and answer the unenviable question, Parker or Kent? Who’s words of wisdom created the greater hero and who is your favourite?

Round 1. Lesson Giver

Who between Kent and Parker is the greater teacher? Kent has the harder gig since he knows that if he doesn’t give Clark a proper moral code it could mean doom for the whole human race. With Parker he just wants to make sure that Peter ends up a decent human being, a man not a whining boy. Until the recent Man Of Steel film no one has ever looked at the origin of Superman with such fear. If Jonathan Kent hadn’t been such a strong and grounding influence on Clark who knows where the Man Of Steel would have ended up. He gave the fledgling God a choice, never forcing his beliefs on him, with Ben Parker we got a wonderful sense of warmth and understanding. Always the carer, the friend and at times the hard ass who taught Peter that strength(even when you have it) isn’t everything. This is tough, my inner fanboy wants to say Kent but I think I’ll go with Ben Parker. After all he was just giving great advice to an awkward teen and I think we can all relate to that after all we’re not Godlike aliens, right? Round 1. goes to Ben Parker.

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Round 2. Relevance

Over the years superheroes have fought with being relevant but what about their mentors? Jonathan Kent has stayed relevant due to constant reboots and inclusions in various televisions series, films and cartoons. Ben Parker hasn’t had as much exposure so it’s difficult for fans to appreciate him. Granted Peter constantly goes back to his uncles creed which has defined his superhero career which everyone knows, ” With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”. Jonathan Kent has no creed, all he has ever had is the belief that his son will be the greatest hero the world has ever known. In the eyes of everyone who knows Jonathan Kent is a hero due to the fact that he always the right thing to say to help his son through whatever issues he had. He definitely had the tougher job of the two and I suppose that’s why he has stayed more relevant. Ben’s words have outlived him, given a kind of legacy to him but Jonathan has stayed relevant through becoming a kind of symbol for his son. Round 2. goes to the farmer from Kansas.

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Round 3. Interpretations

Being tied to two iconic heroes means you will eventually get your own re-interpretations down the line. Ben Parker and Jonathan Kent are no exception to this. Each character has been given new and fantastic interpretations over the years.  In the early 2000’s both characters were given fresh live action interpretations. we got a modernised Jonathan Kent in the television series Smallville and we got a cinematic Ben Parker in Spider-Man. The Spider-Man film was decent but I felt personally that the Ben Parker aspect was a bit forced. I never felt for Ben and as a huge fan of Spider-Man I thought it detracted from the film, we were given one or two nice scenes and then he was dead. With Jonathan Kent we were given a man who would clearly sacrifice himself for his family. He helped his child learn, to grow and to ultimately master the frightening powers within himself. I know what you’re all going to say, there is a difference between a two hour film and a long running series. I can guarantee you that I can find two episodes that will perfectly exemplify the bond between John Kent and Clark Kent. Vengeance is one episode you should definitely watch that will help you understand the bond between them. Round 3. easily goes to Jonathan Kent.

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Round 4. Legacy

It’s fair to say that both Jonathan Kent and Ben Parker have a lasting legacy. There words of wisdom have created two  heroes that make the world a better place with their simple existence. However, are the heroes they’ve created too dependent on these men. Would Peter Parker still be Spider-Man if not for Ben Parker, would Clark Kent have stayed in the shadows if Jonathan Kent hadn’t of been his father? Let’s look at the facts, Peter is turned into Spider-Man out of guilt and the need for revenge after his uncle is brutally killed by a burglar he easily could have stopped. With Clark there are many different versions, in most cases however it is due to the simple fact that Jonathan had a heart attack and even the great Clark Kent is powerless against that. Peter is more dependent on Ben than I think Clark is of Jonathan. It is true that if there was no Jonathan Kent there might not be a Superman but there would still be a Clark Kent doing good because well Clark always wanted to do good. He was always helping people, Jonathan was just there to help him focus that goal. The best and weirdest way to look at this is this example, if both Jonathan Kent and Ben Parker came back from the dead it would have radically different effects on the two superheroes. Clark would be an even greater hero, wishing to show his father how much he learned from him. Peter would quit being Spider-Man because the reason he became Spider-Man was so that no one ever felt what he felt and also to make amends in a way, to live up to the expectations of the great man who helped him. Round 4. goes to Ben Parker.

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Final Round. Death

In a way both these men mark there comic career with death. After all, each of their deaths galvanises our heroes into action. Clark learns to truly be humble coming to the realisation that even he cannot save everyone, helping him understand a very human lesson, even he must fear death. Bens death teaches Peter he must always be vigilant, never complacent and that with great power comes great responsibility. To decide I will look at which death hit me harder, Ben Parkers tragic mugging accident gone wrong or Jonathan Kents untimely heart attack. Between the aftermath and the overall effect it had on me I would have to go with Jonathan Kents heart attack. It’s deeply saddening, heart breaking and well written every time. The final round and the match go to Jonathan Kent, mentor of all mentors.

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They’ve left a lasting legacy for us all. Do you agree with the article? Do you believe Uncle Ben is the better mentor? Are there mentors out there that you think are better than these two? I went to the rest of the team here at Agents Of Geek and some of them gave their two cents and as usual we had some mixed and interesting opinions.

Bryce Wilson

Ben Parker, not even a question. Let’s start off with an easy question, who is Pa Kent anyway? I mean in the comics, not paternal,l wise Glenn Ford, not good ole boy Bo Duke, not death wish having Kevin Costner (I keed). What’s his character? A memorable story moment? A good line? Anything? The only one I can remember is in All Star Superman where the notable thing he does is die, because spoiler alert that’s all John Kent ever does. 

Kent’s defining characteristic is that he has no defining characteristic, which is why both Ford’s gentle, “You’re meant for more in life than kicking footballs,” and Costner’s, “Have you ever thought of just letting folks die?” are both considered valid interpretations of the character somehow. 

Now Uncle Ben… There’s a character whose drawn with clarity. Whether it’s the none more uptight Steve Ditko’s rigid moral clarity or Bendis’s aging hippy rework (and oh how that must of given Ditko palpations). Despite the surface differences Ben Parker is the same man in both stories, with the same lessons to impart and the same support to give. Here is ultimately what it comes down to, Ben Parker is ultimately important because of what he teaches Peter before his death, not by what he teaches Peter with his death. 

Also he has the most famous line in comics history! How is this even a contest?

Joseph Shrader

“With great power comes great responsibility” – Ben Parker

This line is iconic, and Uncle Ben was pivotal in shaping Peter into a fine young man. But Pa Kent did so much more for Clark in this regard.

Jonathan Kent instilled in Clark this very principle, but he also taught him how to integrate these great power(s) into his daily life while also showing him how to become a better human being, despite his alien heritage.

So there you have it, Ben Parker or Jonathan Kent? It divides us here at Agents Of Geek, but damn if it isn’t a great little topic. In the end everyone’s a winner because these two men made their worlds a better place through great parenting. A lesson I think we can all learn. You have the right to remain geeky and awesome.

The Author

Graham Day

Graham Day

I am a geek first and foremost. I love animation, film and comics. I live in Dublin, Ireland and love it. I have met so many amazing people over the years, Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Mark Millar and Scott Snyder to name but a few. I love to sketch, write and talk about geek news. I went to college for five years, three years animation and two years communication and media. All opinions are my own so I hope they're witty and original, I'm fairly certain they're not.

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